Monthly Archives: November 2021

We interview Cristina Juárez, head of the innovation area of CARNET

10/11/2021

“Automobile companies have been able to collaborate with emerging companies to benefit from their innovations”

“The crisis of COVID-19 provides an opportunity to implement new models of mobility”

 “Innovation in mobility must be associated with start-ups”

Cristina Juárez

Cristina Juárez, head since September 2020 of the innovation area of CARNET, the mobility hub promoted by the UPC, SEAT and Volkswagen, and coordinated by the CIT UPC, has a decade of experience in the world of start-ups focused on transport. Her university education (bachelor’s degree in Tourism, pre-EHEA degree in East Asian Studies, and a master’s degree in Digital Product Management) gives her a vision of mobility that complements that of engineers and technologists.

Your training stands out considering the professional area you work in. How did a graduate in tourism and East Asian studies end up in a career in companies and entities in the mobility sector?

I entered the mobility sector through the international profile of what I had studied at university. I began to work in the sales department of a pharmaceutical company, and the team of myTaxi asked me to join the group that was developing its expansion in Spain. I discovered that this is a world that I love, and since 2012 I have remained in the transport sector. I contribute a vision that complements the technology that enriches the projects on which I work. Humanities can improve the processes of technological development.

It seems that the big companies in the sector are leaving the design of new mobility to start-ups. Is this true?

True, but with some nuances. This is related to the digital revolution. In the phase when the sector took off, the start-ups were the spearhead of innovation associated with digitalization, with small teams and structures that enabled them to advance very fast with competence at world level. Between 2010 and 2012, similar projects appeared that competed to meet needs that emerged as a result of the use of smartphones applied to mobility. Automobile companies have their structures and models of development focused on the product. They have been able to collaborate with emerging companies to benefit from their innovations and provide economic viability.

You have worked on various European research projects on mobility. Does the EU have the organization and public resources required to lead research and development in this field compared to the USA or China?

Europe has launched very different initiatives in this field, using instruments that differ from the classic model of funding. These include the framework or Horizon programmes, for example, EIT Urban Mobility or the EIC. We have realized that innovation in mobility must be associated with start-ups and the development of products and be more flexible to reach the market earlier. This enables us to compete with the USA, for example.

Local solutions are sought for global problems. What does a city like Barcelona contribute to the development of urban mobility?

Barcelona is a benchmark in urban mobility due to the complexity of the city, which has very high density, and due to its structure. We have been pioneers in some aspects, such as digitalization, shared mobility and the establishment of low emission zones. And the model of superblocks is connected directly with solutions such as the compact cities of the United States and the 15-minute city that emerged in France.

At European level, which cities are leading mobility and with which projects?

There are various initiatives at European level that work towards smart and sustainable mobility that adapts better to the new models of the city. At the level of active mobility and increasing the use of bicycles, cities such as Copenhagen are at the cutting edge. We also have Amberes as one of the pioneers in actions to implement Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and the prioritization of the use of public transport and intermodality. In addition, we can highlight Paris, and how its local government is prioritising urban development initiatives such as the 15-minute city. Barcelona is in this select group of cities that are leading the mobility of the future.

If mobility needs are very similar in all large cities, the temptation could be to wait until others solve the problems to copy the model.

Taking risks is what leads to obtaining results. Organisations only grow and improve if they try new things and this is true for cities and companies. Innovation has a component of uncertainty, but the resources that are used are not lost.

Cristina Juárez

Has the coronavirus crisis supported the moIf mobility needs are very similar in all large cities, the temptation could be to wait until others solve the problems to copy the model.del of a 15-minute city?

Taking risks is what leads to obtaining results. Organisations only grow and improve if they try new things and this is true for cities and companies. Innovation has a component of uncertainty, but the resources that are used are not lost.

Has the coronavirus crisis supported the model of a 15-minute city?

The COVID-19 crisis provides an opportunity to implement new models of mobility and structures of the city. However, the possibility of recovering  old habits also exists. We have seen this with the elimination of tolls and the attraction effect that this has had. The solutions must come from the government, which sometimes introduces measures that are unpopular, and through adaptation of the infrastructure, as well as from people at individual level. Of course, we should not forget the key role that companies can have.

Could the creation of the factory for electric vehicle batteries in Martorell contribute to the growth of electric mobility in Catalonia?

Definitely. The ecosystem is strengthened, and its launch will represent many changes, such as the need to train some engineers in this area. With a larger workforce specialized in electric mobility, the capacity to attract new companies will increase.

The arrival of electric vehicles on industrial scale will force the reorganization of the entire model, starting with charging. Are cities ready?

Today they are not ready, but we are adapting to assimilate growth in this kind of vehicle. There is capacity for needs and solutions to move at the same speed. We have a certain fear of electric vehicles that is related to how we see them now, and this will be resolved as we find out more about them and use them more.

It seems that sustainable mobility is only progressing in cities. Is the rural environment condemned to the semi-monopoly of the private vehicle?

No, we also work on periurban and rural mobility projects. Growth in urban areas is a reality, but we are aware that many people live outside of cities. Projects such as those of on-demand public transport are designed for users who live in areas that are not highly developed. Digitalization offers suppliers the possibility to adapt fleets and frequencies to real demand. We already know cases in which this kind of model has led to the development of stable transport lines, and an increase in the use of public transport. In addition, smart hubs are working. These are points of intermodal connection situated in periurban areas.

The concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS), the system based on a combination of vehicles that do not belong to the users, requires a change in mentality for their development. How can this be achieved?

With education. The systems that encompass different services require a process of assimilation by the users. It is vital to rely on the pioneers, on the early adopters, and then tackle this model with companies, as much of mobility is of the professional type. If companies adopt the model, its implementation among the general public will be much faster.